Can You Use HDMI and Optical Audio at the Same Time?

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Do you really need to choose between the HDMI and optical cables? Is there a way to use them both? If you keep asking yourself these questions, you’ve come to the right place! We have the answer to every question you may have when it comes to this topic. So, if you want to know whether you can use HDMI and optical audio at the same time, you should get to the next section of this article right now!

So, Can You Use HDMI and Optical Audio at the Same Time?

There is no simple answer to this question. That’s because it really depends on the type of devices you use and their features. A lot of TVs will not let you connect both HDMI and optical cables at the same time, even if they have both of these ports available. In case you do connect both cables, they will automatically switch to the one you inserted last. Other TVs will allow you to choose which audio cable you want to use if you have both of them plugged in. But they still won’t let you use both at the same time.

On the other hand, some TVs have the ability to transmit signals through more than one cable. You will be able to insert both – optical and HDMI cord and have the audio and video signals coming through both of them. You’re not sure whether your TV will allow you to do that? You should check the instructions manual that came with your TV. Also, you can simply google it to verify.

However, you should be aware that there is no device that will reproduce two different audio signals at the same time. In other words, if you connect your TV and your soundbar using two cables (HDMI and optical), and you know that your TV can send signals through both connections at the same time, your soundbar can’t play both signals at the same time – you have to select one of the two connections. 

In some cases, if your TV allows you to send two audio signals at the same time, one cable needs to transmit audio while the other will pass on the video signal. So, you can use the optical cable for the audio signal and then insert HDMI, which will transmit video.

What Can You Do If You Want to Use Both HDMI and Optical Audio at the Same Time?

In case you really need to have both HDMI and optical audio working at the same time, and your TV doesn’t allow you to have both outputs at the same time, there is still something you can do. The best solution for you will be getting an audio extractor.

In most cases, the audio extractor will allow you to use a separate device to transmit the sound without messing up the quality of the video the HDMI cable transmits. Therefore, this device will give you the option to play audio via a different device than what you’re using to play the video. It is especially useful in case your playback device cannot play audio for some reason or when you want to send audio to two different speaker systems at the same time. The audio extractor is also great for those who want to convert the HDMI digital signal into an analog signal.

ViewHD Prosumer 4×1 HDMI Audio Extractor

ViewHD Prosumer 4x1 HDMI Audio Extractor

If the format of the incoming audio signal is compatible with optical connection (Dolby Digital 5.1, for example), both HDMI outputs and optical outputs will be active at the same time

You can find many great audio extractors online. We recommend that you check out the reviews before making your purchase. In addition, you should also carefully look into the specifications of the product. That way, you’ll ensure it will give you the ability to pass on the type of signal that you need.

HDMI vs. Optical – Which One Should You Choose?

You can easily transmit your videos and audio signals between different devices through HDMI and Optical cables. These are two very popular options that come with their own pros and cons. That’s why you must understand both these methods in detail before you make a call. So, let’s talk more about this in this section.

HDMI vs Optical

What Is HDMI Audio?

HDMI, a.k.a High-Definition Multimedia Interface, is a modern audio/video interface that is basically used for transferring uncompressed video data and compressed or uncompressed digital audio from an HDMI-compliant device to a compatible computer monitor, video projector, digital television, or even a digital audio device. Although many people associate HDMI with high-definition videos, it’s equally capable of handling audio signals.

HDMI audio supports a wide range of devices, ranging from standard stereo to multi-channel surround sound. This includes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Also, one of the most important advantages of HDMI is that it transmits both audio and video signals over a single cable, which makes your life easier and lets you bid farewell to those annoying cable clutters.

How does HDMI Audio Work?

So, you know what purpose does the HDMI serve, but do you know how does it work? I’m guessing not. So, let’s discuss it in this section.

  1. Source Device: It all starts with a device that is the source of the complete process. For instance, a Blu-ray player, streaming device, or even a gaming console. This device is the source that generates the audio signal that can be in different file formats depending on the content.
  2. Digital Transmission: The above-generated audio signal is then transferred in a digital format through the HDMI cable. This entire process makes sure that the audio quality is consistent and does not get any interference, which is a common problem with analog cables.
  3. Reception and Playback: As the signal gets transmitted, now the device located on the receiving end, generally a TV or AV receiver, decodes this audio signal. After this, it processes the signal and sends it to the speakers and sound system connected to the ecosystem.
  4. Audio Return Channel (ARC): Audio Return Channel (ARC) is a feature supported by modern HDMI cables. This simply sends the audio both ways over the HDMI cable. For example, let’s just say that you’re streaming some content on your smart television, ARC makes the TV send that audio back to a soundbar or an AV receiver. This eliminates the requirement for a separate audio cable.
  5. Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC): eARC is the successor of ARC. This technology boosts the bandwidth and the speed of the transmission. Through this, you can transmit higher-quality audio formats and receive optimal sound quality for your audio systems.

What Is Optical Audio?

Optical Audio also does the same job as an HDMI cable. It transmits digital audio signals between various devices. It is also referred to as TOSLINK(Toshiba Link), and it is basically a standardized optical fiber connection. This technology was first tossed back in the early 1980s by Toshiba for its CD players. Since then, this technology grabbed many eyes for transmitting audio signals in different home entertainment systems, like AV receivers, soundbars, gaming consoles, and televisions.

Unlike traditional analog connections, optical audio uses light to transmit audio signals, ensuring a pure, interference-free transmission. This makes it particularly advantageous in environments where electromagnetic interference (EMI) or radio frequency interference (RFI) could degrade audio quality.

That said, this technology is unique. I say this because it comes with a very thin fiber-optic core that is surrounded by cladding, all this encased in a protective jacket. The core, which carries light signals with audio data, is made of plastic or glass. Also, these light signals are completely immune to electrical interference and even ensure a clean and consistent audio transmission.

How Optical Audio Works?

The functioning of optical audio is a fascinating blend of optics and electronics. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. Conversion to Digital: The first step includes the audio signal getting converted into a digital format if in case it is not. This is done by the source device, be it a TV, gaming console, or Blu-ray player.
  2. Light Transmission: Secondly, this digital signal is transformed into a light pulse. So, an LED or laser diode at the transmitting end of the optical cable emits these pulses, with the presence of light representing a ‘1’ and its absence representing a ‘0’ in binary code.
  3. Traveling Through the Cable: Then, these light pulses simply travel down the fiber-optic core of your optical cable. Now, because of the total internal reflection principle, the light bounces off the core’s walls, which ensures minimum distortion and audio loss as it travels from one end to the other.
  4. Reception and Decoding: Talking about the receiving end, a photodiode sensor detects these pulses automatically and then converts them back into an electrical digital signal. Finally, this signal then gets decoded and processed by the device present at the receiving end, like an AV receiver or soundbar, and sent to the speakers.
  5. Bandwidth Limitations: It is also important to note that although optical audio delivers a consistent and clean signal, it still has some limitations in bandwidth. So, it does not support a handful of high-definition audio formats, including DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. Eventually, for such formats, you should go for HDMI or other connections.

What is the Difference Between HDMI and Optical Audio?

Here are the main differences between HDMI and Optical Audio.

1. Function

HDMI: HDMI basically transmits audio and video data from one device to another. Thanks to its dual capability, this technology has made a staple in modern entertainment setups, from the latest gaming consoles to home theatres. The best part about HDMI is its power that streamlines the entire connection process. Literally, with just a single cable, you can easily transmit high-resolution video and high-definition audio. This thankfully eliminates the clutter of keeping multiple cables. All this makes HDMI the top-preferred choice in the entertainment industry. 

Optical Audio: Optical audio, commonly known as TOSLINK (Toshiba Link), has a singular focus: audio transmission. Originally developed to link Toshiba CD players to receivers, its application has broadened over the years. The core principle of optical audio is the transmission of audio signals using light pulses. This method ensures a clean, interference-free audio signal, making it a favorite for pure audio transmissions. However, its exclusive focus on audio means that for video, an additional connection method is necessary. In setups where audio quality is paramount, and external interferences like electromagnetic disruptions are a concern, optical audio shines as the go-to choice.

2. Build

HDMI: The build quality of HDMI cables leaves no tables unturned. I say this because it is made with complete sophistication and durability. So, internally, they have 19 copper wires. Each of these is directly responsible for transmitting different data types; all encased within a single cable. Now, this configuration lets HDMI handle both audio and video signals simultaneously. Coming to the external layer of HDMI consists of a robust rubber or PVC material that gives flexibility and protection against the wear and tear of the technology. Even the connectors located at the ends are gold-plated in most cases, which ensures optimal signal transmission and resistance to corrosion. Overall, their design is so unique that it’s easily recognizable and standardized across various devices.

Optical Audio: The construction of optical audio cables is a testament to precision engineering. At its heart is a thin fiber-optic core crafted from either high-grade plastic or glass. This core is responsible for transmitting audio signals in the form of light pulses. The core is surrounded by a cladding layer, which basically reflects the light back to it. This makes minimum signal loss while there is a transmission. Even the outermost layer in this technology is a protective jacket, which is made out of durable plastic, and it safeguards the delicate internal fibers from potential damage. On top of it, the connectors, which are distinct because of their square shape, have a very precise alignment and are crucial for the efficient transmission of light signals. Even the protective caps on these connectors shield the ends from unwanted damage and dust while they’re not in use.

3. Audio Quality

HDMI: HDMI is renowned for its capability to deliver superior audio quality. It supports a vast array of audio formats, from basic stereo to advanced high-definition multi-channel formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. This wide range ensures that audio transmitted via HDMI retains its richness, depth, and clarity, providing listeners with an immersive auditory experience. 

On top of it, there is no loss of quality from the source to the output device as HDMI is capable of handling the uncompressed audio signals, ensuring that your audio remains consistent and close to accurate at all times. Whether it’s the subtle nuances in a musical piece or the intricate sound effects in a movie, HDMI captures and conveys them with precision.

Optical Audio: On the contrary, optical audio has some limitations when it comes to delivering consistent and clear audio signals in terms of the supported audio formats. It is, however, capable of transmitting digital audio formats, including Dolby Digital, PCM, and DTS. These are most suitable for home audio setups. Still, because of the bandwidth constraints, optical audio is unable to support the latest high-definition audio formats, which HDMI can do easily. So, we can say that although optical audio delivers a clean and interference-free signal, it might still not deliver the same depth and breadth of sound that the HDMI setups can do. That said, in most cases, the clarity and crisp sound offered by optical audio is more than sufficient for a normal listener.

4. Technology

HDMI: When it comes to technology, I bet that HDMI has taken a huge leap ahead of its alternatives. Whenever there is a new version, HDMI delivers enhanced features and capabilities that make the user experience even better. For instance, HDMI 2.0 brought complete support for 4K video at 60FPS, whereas HDMI 2.1, also the latest technology to date, boasts support for 8K video and even dynamic HDR. And it doesn’t end here. 

HDMI’s latest developments have even launched a new feature known as the Audio Return Channel (ARC), which lets the audio be sent in both directions, simplifying system setups. Not to mention, the Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) is even a step ahead, offering increased bandwidth for advanced audio formats. HDMI’s Continuous Evolution Strategy ensures that the technology remains backward compatible, meaning newer versions can work with devices that support older HDMI versions, safeguarding users’ investments in their devices.

Optical Audio: Optical audio technology, while not seeing the same rapid evolution as HDMI, has remained steadfast and reliable. Its core principle of using light to transmit audio signals has remained unchanged since its introduction. This method ensures that the audio signal remains free from electromagnetic interference, a common issue with electrical transmission methods. Over the years, improvements in optical audio have primarily focused on enhancing the quality of materials used, ensuring more efficient light transmission, and reducing signal loss. While it may not boast the frequent upgrades and feature additions seen in HDMI, optical audio’s consistency and reliability, have cemented its place in many audio setups.

5. Bandwidth

HDMI: One of HDMI’s standout features is its impressive bandwidth capabilities. Bandwidth determines the amount of data that can be transmitted over a connection in a given time, and in HDMI’s case, this has seen significant enhancements with each version. For instance, HDMI 1.4 offers a bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps, sufficient for 1080p video and multi-channel audio. However, with the advent of HDMI 2.0, this was increased to 18 Gbps, accommodating 4K video at 60Hz. The latest iteration, HDMI 2.1, takes this even further, boasting a staggering 48 Gbps bandwidth. This allows it to support 8K video, dynamic HDR, and even faster refresh rates for gaming. Such high bandwidth ensures that HDMI remains at the forefront of audio-visual technology, ready to handle current and emerging high-definition formats.

Optical Audio: Optical audio, while offering a clean and consistent signal transmission, operates within a more constrained bandwidth. Typically, optical audio cables have a bandwidth limit of around 125 Mbps. This is sufficient for transmitting standard digital audio formats, such as PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS. However, this bandwidth limitation means that optical audio cannot handle the more advanced, high-definition audio formats that require greater data transmission rates. While this bandwidth is ample for many home theater setups and offers a quality audio experience, it doesn’t match the expansive bandwidth capabilities of HDMI, especially when considering the latest high-definition audio and video requirements.

6. Connection Type

HDMI: HDMI connectors are quite standardized, making sure that a consistent connection is maintained across a variety of devices. These are categorized by their flat, elongated shape that has 19 pinholes in a specific configuration. These connectors are even made to ensure a snug fit, which reduces the risk of disconnections. Over time, there has been a plethora of HDMI connectors that have been presented o cater to different devices and requirements. Among these, the most common one is Type A, found in TVs, soundbars, and AV receivers. There are also Type C and Type D, typically found on smaller devices, including Tablets and small laptops. All and all, the design of HDMI connectors ensures a stable, high-speed connection, which is extremely crucial for transmitting high-definition audio and video signals without any interruptions.

Optical Audio: Optical audio connectors come with a unique design tailored to their light-based transmission method. These connectors are usually square in shape with a central tip where the fiber-optic core is placed. This design gives precise alignment while connecting, which is efficient for the transmission of light signals. The connectors even come with protective caps to protect the delicate fiber tip from dust and potential damage when not in use. When connecting, users might notice a soft click, indicating a secure connection. Commonly used optical audio connectors are the standard TOSLINK and the smaller 3.5mm Mini-TOSLINK. The design of optical audio connectors, while different from HDMI, is optimized for a pure, interference-free audio signal transmission.

7. Compatibility

HDMI: HDMI’s widespread adoption and standardization have made it one of the most compatible connection types in the audio-visual realm. Since its introduction, HDMI has been integrated into a vast array of devices, from televisions, projectors, and soundbars to gaming consoles, laptops, and desktop computers. Its universal design ensures seamless interoperability across these devices. Furthermore, HDMI’s backward compatibility is a significant advantage. This means that even if you have a newer HDMI cable (like HDMI 2.1) and an older device (supporting HDMI 1.4), they can still work together, although the features will be limited to what the older device supports. This backward compatibility ensures that users don’t need to frequently replace their cables or devices as newer versions emerge.

Optical Audio: Optical audio, while not as universally adopted as HDMI, still boasts a significant degree of compatibility, especially in the realm of audio devices. Many televisions, sound systems, gaming consoles, and even some computers come equipped with optical audio ports. Its dedicated focus on audio transmission has made it a favored choice for setups where pure, interference-free audio is paramount. However, as technology has advanced, some newer devices have started to omit optical audio ports in favor of HDMI, especially given HDMI’s ability to transmit both high-definition audio and video. Nevertheless, for devices and setups where optical audio is present, its compatibility remains robust, ensuring a consistent and high-quality audio experience.

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On the other hand, an HDMI cable is made out of copper, which is cheap and pretty easy to make. It has the ability to transmit high-res audio. That is why most experts and AV enthusiasts prefer this type of connection. 

FAQ

Q: What are the benefits of using both HDMI and optical audio connections together?

There are many benefits of using both HDMI and optical audio connections at the same time. For starters, HDMI delivers a unified solution for high-definition content, thanks to its capability of transmitting both audio and video signals. On the contrary, optical audio can serve as a dedicated audio channel as it is known for its pure and interference-free audio transmission. So, by using both, you can get the best video quality from HDMI while optimizing audio through the optical connection. This setup is extremely beneficial in environments that have a lot of electromagnetic interference, where the optical audio’s immunity to such distractions ensures consistent audio quality.

Q: Do I need any additional equipment or adapters to use HDMI and optical audio simultaneously?

No, you don’t need additional equipment if your device has both HDMI and optical audio ports. That said, you can get a superior experience if you can get adapters or splitters. For instance, if you want to extract audio from an HDMI source and transfer it to a source that only comes with an optical input, you’d need an HDMI audio extractor. It’s because this device splits the audio from the HDMI signal and outputs it through an optical port. It’s essential to ensure that the devices you’re connecting support the simultaneous use of HDMI and optical audio, as some might default to one over the other.

Q: Is it better to hook up a soundbar with HDMI or optical?

The decision to connect a soundbar using HDMI or optical largely depends on the soundbar’s features and the user’s requirements. If the soundbar supports advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, then HDMI (specifically with ARC or eARC) would be the better choice, as Optical doesn’t have the bandwidth to support these formats. HDMI also offers the advantage of an Audio Return Channel (ARC), allowing the TV to send audio back to the soundbar, making the setup cleaner with fewer cables. On the other hand, if the soundbar and TV setup is straightforward without the need for advanced audio formats, optical can be a reliable and simple choice. It provides a clear, consistent audio signal and is immune to electromagnetic interference.

The Use of the HDMI and Optical Audio at the Same Time – Conclusion

As you’ve seen, there isn’t an easy way to use both HDMI and optical audio simultaneously. Still, if you need to pass on a video signal through one of these and the audio through another, you have a few options you can try out. In most cases, you will have to add another device to your setup (HDMI audio extractor), especially for TVs that will not allow you to use both of these cables at the same time.

In case you don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a way to get audio output from HDMI and optical connection at the same time, you can always choose the one you need more and leave the other cable to be the alternative in case something goes wrong with the first one. We also made sure to dedicate a part of our article to helping you choose the best cable for your needs.

Did you find this article helpful? If you did, you would be happy to know that we have more useful articles on our website. So, you should definitely check them out!

2 Comments

  • Avatar Fred Bacher

    I found that if I connect my soundbar thru HDMI (eArc/arc) port on tv then the headphone connection will not work on my new sony xr65CJ. It worked on the older sony bravia I have so this new one is going back to Costco. I don’t know why they disabled this feature or if other TV’s with HDMI 2.1 have this issue as well. I did try the optical port and that didn’t work either. I can get it to work if I connect the soundbar with an optical connection but then I have to turn on the soundbar with it’s remote everytime I want to watch TV. I have not tried bluetooth but that’s next.

  • Avatar R Muthukumar

    Useful information that even the technician who came to install my new Home Theatre recently didn’t know about!
    Thank you!

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